Beneath the surface in the waters of Belize, you’ll find the endangered Central American River turtle and occasionally Missouri State University students.
Cora Dyslin, biology graduate student, is making a big splash when she collects data on the daily and seasonal activity patterns of the critically endangered turtle.
“I am in the water almost all day,” she said. “I use the diving receiver to follow the beeps coming out of the acoustic transmitter and track down as many of my turtles within the system as I can and download the activity data stored on their logger.”
With radio telemetry, Wesley Smith, biology graduate student, studies the turtles’ preferences and use of habitat in the same Belize field station.
“I put small transmitters on them and let them go,” Smith said. “Then I follow them around in a boat for days, studying how they’re interacting with their habitat and each other.”
Back in the United States, Dylan Wichman, biology graduate student will spend summer 2022 investigating the validity of three chicken turtle subspecies.
“This means 10-12 hours a day in knee-deep water searching for these little ‘diamonds in the marsh,’ using a device that pings radio waves off a secondary device we attach to the turtles for 70-80 days,” Wichman said.
“It is one of the most grueling and rewarding experiences I have ever had. Finding one of these joyous little animals just brings a smile to my face every time.”
Grant funding makes research possible
The projects are supported by several large grants.
- Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund provided a grant to Dyslin.
- The Turtle Conservation Fund awarded funding to Smith.
- The Turtle Taxonomy Fund (Chelonian Research Center) supports Wichman’s project.
In securing the grants, all three students competed not only with other students, but also with conservation biologists across the world.
“These grants are ones that seasoned conservation biologists would pursue, in addition to students,” Ligon said. “The fact that all three of them competed so successfully on that much larger stage as graduate students is exceptional.”